Woodstock remembers Indigenous war veterans
9 new Remembrance Day banners honour people from Woodstock First Nation
The street lamps that dot the sidewalks and roads all over Woodstock are shedding light on some heroic faces from the past.
The posts are embellished with banners — 70 in total — to honour veterans from the area who served overseas.
And this year, for the first time, the town is including Indigenous people from nearby Woodstock First Nation.
It's welcome news for people like Carole Polchies, whose brother, Robert Paul, was in the Canadian Army from 1952 to 1955.
"It's time they were recognized," Polchies said. "There were a lot of people from our reserve that were in the service."
Each banner carries a black and white photo of the service member, along with their name and dates served.
For the past seven years, Randy Leonard has been making the banners for people who want to pay tribute to family members who went to war or served overseas in peacetime.
The banners are placed throughout Woodstock's downtown at the beginning of November and will stay there until the Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday.
"People love it," Leonard said. "They come down here with their children, their grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and they walk up and down Main Street and look at banners and see relatives that they've known in the past."
But not including the town's Indigenous neighbours from Woodstock First Nation was something Leonard wanted to fix this year.
"I'm building bridges, and I thought it was the right thing to do," Leonard said.
Lisa Sappier of the Woodstock First Nation veterans committee, said she worked with Leonard to include nine banners of people from the reserve who served overseas.
Sappier said it's an important symbol between the two communities.
"To get those banners is the beginning stages of reconciliation," she said.
"It's long overdue, but I can see it as the path to us healing within the communities around us — and that's what's needed."
Sappier's father, Fred, served in peacetime in Germany, is honoured with a banner near the cenotaph in Woodstock.
"I'm so proud of all of our veterans that are hanging here — I worked long and hard to get to this point."
Sappier said she plans to work with Leonard to add more people from Woodstock First Nation next year.